August 22, 2011. On this day thirty-three years ago, I was 27 years old and I got the worst news I ever had: my father, mother, and brother had been killed in an automobile accident in Ontonagon, Michigan. They’d been enjoying a camping and fishing trip. Pop was 51, Mum was 48, and George was 13.
I wonder how many words I’ve written about that day, about their deaths, about them. Lots. Sometimes I think I can’t possibly write another word or cry another tear, but there’s an endless font of both.I’m not a crying type of person, but when I think of Mum and Pop and George, my eyes get wet immediately. It’s the hurt that keeps on giving, the gut-hole that keeps on expanding. To never see my folks grow old, to never see my brother grow up, is an ache indescribable. To not have them around to share my joys and sorrows as I raised my children has been a loneliness unimaginable. How do I describe a pain that is a lack? Is there a word for a grief over what might have been?
I know a woman who is dying now. Her children are all adults. As a result of the mess around her divorce from their dad, some of the children are estranged from her. I don’t know the children, but I wish I could say to them, “Go say goodbye to your mom. You don’t have to understand or forgive her. Just give her a hug and say, ‘I remember when I was a little kid and you were my mom, raising me. Thanks.’” Or something like that. I know that if they don’t at least go visit her, they’ll regret it all their lives. Years could stretch long, carrying a regret like that.On Mum and Pop and George’s gravestone, we had the words carved: “They taught us to live.” I wish I could say that I’ve always lived my life perfectly as a result of getting a death-lesson so young. But it wouldn’t be true. I’ve tried to be a human being in my roles as worker, friend, in-law, wife, mother, sister, aunt, and grandma. But I’ve failed many times. My failures bother me to this day. Sometimes I understand my failures and learn from them. Other times, I’m mystified and there’s no happy resolution.
I guess I’ll just keep trying. Maybe that’s the message of the gravestone. They taught us to live. If that doesn’t mean “Keep trying to be a human being,” I don’t know what else it could mean.
Gail Grenier is the author of Calling All Horses, Dog Woman, and Don't Worry Baby, all available on Amazon.com.